The UK single-use plastic ban is here!
From 1 October 2023, the new ban on single-use plastic will be enforced as law in England and Wales, aligning these nations with the rest of the UK. This initiative is a key step in the UK Government’s aim to nudge the country’s consumption habits and lessen the impact of plastic waste on the environment.
This new legislation aligns with the EU’s directive, established in 2019, which outlines ambitious goals for reductions in plastic usage across Europe by 2025. The UK’s commitment to the environment, as outlined in the 25-Year Environment Plan, is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. The urgency stems from the impact of plastic pollution, with its lengthy degradable timeline, inflicts severe harm on the environment, and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions throughout its lifecycle.
What is banned?
The forthcoming plastic ban is poised to cover a range of single-use plastic items, including plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, and specific types of polystyrene cups and food containers. These items, often discarded after a single use, have been a substantial contribution to plastic pollution and environmental degradation.
How does this impact foodservice operations?
Under the new legislation, it will be illegal to provide banned products to consumers from 1 October 2023. Affected caterers and foodservice providers should be aware that the ban includes:
Plastic drink stirrers
- Disposable plastic plates – excluding plates, trays, and bowls that are used as packaging, in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items as defined in The Packaging Regulations 2015 regulation 3.
Single-use plastic cutlery – including single-use plastic knives, forks, spoons and chopsticks made of plastic, including standard-size or mini-size cutlery or a combination of cutlery, such as sporks.
- Expanded polystyrene containers, such as takeaway food and drink containers.
“With the Single Use Plastic ban coming into effect in England this October, there’s a huge increase in public awareness around single-use plastic as well as a great opportunity for caterers to connect with this demand and make a positive change to the impact that their businesses have on the planet.”
– Hoa Doan, Head of impact & Sustainability, Notpla
Legislations do vary throughout the nations:
* Oxo-degradable plastics are created through a process whereby a bio-additive (such as starch) is added to traditional plastic and are falsely marketed as compostable and biodegradable. Examples include ‘degradable’ cutlery, which can be made from a blend of bio-additives and plastics and are neither compostable nor biodegradable.
Are compostable and biodegradable plastics suitable alternatives?
Concerns have been raised about the potential impacts of compostable and biodegradable plastics in closed-loop environments. While these materials are marketed as eco-friendly, their effectiveness in real-world conditions is variable, potentially contributing to plastic pollution.
So, how can these products be distinguished?
As more ‘sustainable plastics’ are introduced to the market, consumers are faced with the decision of which products to buy and how to dispose of them. The current confusion around the disposal of biodegradable plastic products, as well as the lack of infrastructure for dealing with them at the end of their use, will mean biodegradable plastics will have adverse effects on the environment.
A biodegradable plastic is a material that can be broken down naturally by bacteria or other living organisms and returned to the environment without pollution.
A compostable plastic is similar in that materials are broken down and recycled by mimicking the conditions created by nature. Whilst there is no timescale for a product to be biodegradable, a compostable material must degrade within 12 weeks. Just as biodegradable materials will not necessarily degrade everywhere, those that are compostable are so under varied conditions.
For food and drink packaging, this means that the materials will not biodegrade in home composting conditions, but only in industrial conditions, such as an IVC plant. And dependent on counties and councils, the facilities that create these conditions are usually not in place. When reviewing the use of biodegradable and compostable plastics, it is important to consider how to deal with them in the existing system as well as how they will fit into a future circular economy:
The Government’s stance emphasises the necessity for compostable plastics to undergo proper industrial composting for effective degradation. The limited industrial composting capacity across the UK poses challenges for managing compostable plastics, and with the latest ban including PLA cutlery, the Government’s longer-term plan may be more aligned to ‘circular economy’ recycling schemes.
Considering these complexities, the ultimate effectiveness of the ban hinges on its coverage of items derived from bio-based, biodegradable, or compostable plastics. Another alternative that might be encountered when exploring sustainable packaging solutions are terms such as “aqueous,” or “water-based” coatings. These were initially considered the ‘future’ in recyclable packaging, promising solutions to recycling challenges and regulatory concerns.
A sustainable solution?
Conventional linings to coffee cups like PLA or PE are ‘glued’ to the paper or sprayed onto the paper, leaving a coating on the paper’s outermost layer. Instead, aqueous lining is painted onto the food packaging material. Most of the water-based coating soaks into the paper fibres (rather than forming an outer layer), thus constituting a structural component of the coating.
This distinction gives rise to the notion of sustainability, as it is presented as “plastic-free” since it is not either PLA and PE lined, but in fact, this coating still contains plastic polymers as it is made out of particles that derive from it such as polystyrene or acrylic. So why do some manufacturers promote this packaging as plastic-free? Simply because the coating can evade the current legal definition of plastic and accounts for less than 10% of the total weight of the packaging, passing the composting and paper recycling tests. However, when broken down, the residual from the paper are plastic particles.
The latest guidance from the EU Single-Use Plastic Directive (SUPD) stipulates that by the end of 2023, aqueous lining can no longer be considered plastic-free due to the presence of these petrochemical polymers. As a result, it must be appropriately labelled for sale and use within the EU to promote responsible disposal practices. In the UK, the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) has recently expressed the opinion that these claims are misleading consumers and do not comply with the UK Green Claims Code which is similarly aiming at preventing greenwashing in the industry. Whilst the UK stance is not as virtuous as the EU, the emerging global education and commitment to the environment will lead to enhanced knowledge and hopefully the elimination of misleading marketing. enhanced knowledge and hopefully the elimination of misleading marketing.
So, what are the solutions?
In response to these challenges, sustainable alternatives are emerging in the market. Companies like Vegware and Notpla are introducing products made from sustainable materials such as seaweed and plants. Notpla’s offerings extend to edible packaging solutions, revolutionizing the concept of single-use packaging.
“At Notpla, we’re dedicated to providing businesses with truly plastic-free food packaging alternatives that are better for the planet, yet still offer the same level of robustness and the grease-proof barrier that kitchens have come to expect from plastic.
Our award-winning takeaway food boxes are coated with seaweed, a natural mineral that is compostable, recyclable and completely breaks down in nature without leaving any nasties behind. By switching to Notpla’s packaging solutions, caterers can respond to the growing consumer demand for guilt-free, plastic-free packaging while also making meaningful strides towards sustainability.”
– Hoa Doan, Head of impact & Sustainability, Notpla
As far as innovation in food packaging goes, it may be seen that edible packaging is one of the more unconventional concepts, with the consumer effectively eating the packaging as part of the product and so eliminating it from causing pollution. An example of this innovation is the creation of spoons made from jowar flour, offering a playful and innovative alternative to plastic. While this product can contribute to waste reduction, it should be noted that its practicality is somewhat limited, with edible cutlery often losing structure when wet. More suitable and cost-effective alternatives to plastic cutlery include wooden and paper utensils. Birchwood cutlery is a pre-existing plant-based substitute for plastic.
Expandable polystyrene containers
Expanded polystyrene originates from crude oil and is a plastic resin. EPS poses numerous environmental issues. It cannot be recycled, lacks biodegradability, and tends to break into microplastic particles, escaping landfills and spreading throughout ecosystems. With bans on EPS already in effect in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the impending ban has less attention, as many foodservice establishments have already transitioned to more sustainable alternatives.
Sustainable solutions are about collaboration. allmanhall are working with Notpla and other supplier partners to bring viable alternatives to foodservice teams. Please do get in touch for more details!